The Video Gamer’s Experience – WWE 2K16 Review

Last year wasn’t a very good time for the WWE video game series. Following the releases of Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s Playstation 4 consoles a year prior, “WWE 2K15” entered the world following a series of announcements both early and recent that had fans reasonably pessimistic and worried that 2K Games’ first entry in this latest generation of gaming would be disappointing. Sadly for almost everyone, the low expectations were proven valid as “WWE 2K15” came across as a beta version of what could’ve been the next enjoyable evolution in the franchise.



Featuring a rather depleted roster that was only buffed through DLC packs, ravaged “Create-A” features and match types, and a pair of single player modes that left a lot to be desired, the only thing “WWE 2K15” had going for it was its gameplay modifications that made the game more of a simulation experience than an arcade-like offering (especially compared to the original games) and graphics that were mostly phenomenal. Developers promised to have listened to gamers upset over last year’s entry while looking to deliver on the promises they made a year ago and rework fundamental flaws in the gameplay that has plagued the series for years. I came into this one a little more optimistic than the year prior, but still cautious.


Did I Complete “WWE 2K16”?


Sometimes it’s hard to judge what “complete” means when talking, writing and/or reviewing a wrestling game. Taking a page from “WWE 2K15’s” playbook, “WWE 2K16” makes the question a whole lot easier to answer thanks to certain single player modes. Rather than spending hours playing through the digitized renditions of two of WWE’s most recent and infamous rivalries, or reliving specific eras and pay-per-view events, the developers created a mode highlighting the career of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin once again titled the “2k Showcase”. With highlight videos to break up the tedium, the player is forced to play through a series of matches featuring objectives that allows for the unlocking of extra wrestlers, costumes and moves. This mode can take you around eight to ten hours to complete without the completion of sub-objectives/“special” matches not necessary to see the final cutscene.


I'll let you guess the ending to the "2K Showcase"

I’ll let you guess the ending to the “2K Showcase”


Also returning from “WWE 2K15” is “MyCareer” – a mode exclusive to the PS4 & X1 versions. The stand-alone mode allows a player to create his or her own wrestler and take that individual through the ranks of WWE’s developmental system “NXT” before slowly working the superstar’s way up the card in hopes of achieving the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. My time with this year’s version reached RPG levels of times; reaching far into the double digits before I simply achieved WWE World Heavyweight champion status. There are other things to keep a person busy (from online competition to creating your own WWE Universe), but just like last year nothing fulfills the completion quota better than “2k Showcase” and “MyCareer” modes.


Did “WWE 2K16” Live Up to the Hype?


Really, “WWE 2K16” didn’t have to do much to surpass its most recent predecessor thanks to so many lacking features and a failure to improve the game’s functionality to correlate with the modified in-ring action of “WWE 2K15”. Thankfully there wasn’t any last minute release delays or disappointing announcements such as an inability to create women wrestlers this time around, almost giving the game a clean slate to work with as gamers understood the pressure both developer Yukes and publisher 2K Games was faced with thanks to the demands of releasing a game before the holiday season.

Rather than abandon what worked last year, “2K16” sees an improvement on the somewhat overhauled gameplay that pushed the series further down the rabbit hole of simulation gaming similar to the AKI games released during the heyday of the Nintendo 64. The matches have been slowed down in an attempt to prevent the utilization of maneuvers over and over again in rapid succession while building up the character’s momentum before a wrestler’s specific finisher can be executed for an incredibly quick and unsatisfying ending. This change in the way the bouts progress now is mostly thanks to the additions seen in last year’s game – the stamina meter and a “rock, paper, scissors”-like collar & elbow tie up sequence that occurs at the start of each match, and lasts until one person’s stamina bar reaches “level two”.


Collar & Elbow - WWE 2K16


Probably the most important new feature when it comes to gameplay is the addition of a reversal bar. Separated by a varying number of blocks (with the segments depending on the grappler’s stats) that regenerate over time, reversals are now limited and forces the player to pick and chose when he/she should go for that well-timed counter (with the reversal window being a lot more reasonable than last year’s edition where it seemed to be all over the place) rather than turning every match into a reversal spam-fest. All of these features can be turned off in the “Options” menu – so if these additions are not your cup of tea it doesn’t hinder your play style offline.

The AI has also been improved, made smarter and able to handle themselves, their stamina, reversals and when to use a finisher a lot more effectively this time around. My first match in proved to be a shocking one as I took Kevin Owens and failed to defeat his arch nemesis in Sami Zayn simply because I didn’t manage my reversals properly and left myself open to his offensive strike that ended with Zayn’s finisher landing after an “OMG” moment. For the first time in years, gameplay allows for epic encounters in almost every match. The game play isn’t perfect, though. Judging stamina isn’t necessary until a player reaches “level three”; allowing the player to whittle down an opponent’s health pretty quickly. But to end a match is an entirely different story. For some reason, finishing maneuver damage has been dialed down, causing Undertaker at “Wrestlemania”-esque kick out sequences happening against opponents ranging from John Cena to Heath Slater. It becomes annoying when you actually beat down an opponent and save your finisher for that right moment, only to have the pin end in a two count. Even turning up the sliders in the Options menu barely helps alleviate this problem unless you turn down the difficulty to “Easy”.

Another big change to the gameplay is the submission system. Rather than sticking to the button-mashing “Breaking Point” system, Yukes looked to copy “UFC Undisputed 3”.   Unfortunately, the results are nothing close to impressive; especially compared to the inspiration. Without fully explaining how the submission system works, the game asks for a player to learn through trial & error. Actually rotating the stick proves ineffective as the gamer’s motions becomes predictable by the computer. Instead, one must let the analog stick return to its central starting point after moving it toward the desired position on the in-game’s circular meter. With the addition of orbs to the submission wheel, a well-timed strategy can go out of the window before a player realizes what just happened. Ricky Steamboat became the bane of my existence while trying to tackle the “2K Showcase”. The other minor gameplay addition is “Break Out” where the player can attack an opponent during his/hers entrance. It’s fun the first couple of times you do it, but gets pretty old and unnecessary fast if you want to have a straight-up match.


WWE 2K16 Submission System


Beyond the gameplay additions, one of the most highly promoted parts about “WWE 2K16” was the roster. Sporting a list of wrestlers reaching the triple digits (and that’s not counting extra costumes), the game delivers the most impressive roster seen in a WWE game since “Smackdown: Know Your Role”. While it’s great to be able to play as Sting, Daniel Bryan, and my all-time favorite Bret Hart, there are some obvious omissions and additions that seem odd. Billy Gunn is a part of the non-DLC roster, but Road Dogg isn’t. Characters like Bam Bam Bigelow, Diamond Dallas Page and Lex Luger being a part of the game’s roster really makes no sense other than the licenses from last year’s DLC packs could be used in this game.

Thankfully, “WWE 2K16” goes out of its way to make up for last year’s incredibly lacking “Create-A” modes and match types. While some stipulation bouts are still missing, most of the multi-person matches featuring tables, ladders, chairs and even sledgehammers return. This year, players are giving the rightful opportunity to create men and women wrestlers (with Divas unavailable for creationists in “2K15”), arenas, championship belts and even full-blown shows. The pieces to craft wrestlers are more varied and robust compared to last year’s iteration from clothing, to hair, to face & body morphing. Introduced in the last game was the ability to import a picture of someone’s face to place on the head of a Create-a-Wrestler (or “CAW”). It was definitely rough around the edges and proved to be unnecessarily difficult to get right. The function has been greatly improved this time around as getting that perfect picture to align with the face happens pretty naturally once you get the hang of it. It took me an hour after taking my own picture to get my CAW’s face right, only for the time to lessen with each wrestler made as I had gotten used to the highly functional tool (which is now made even better with a smart phone app that can send the taken picture to your game account for easy downloading).



The “Create-A-Wrestler” mode also isn’t perfect and shows some poor optimization. Changing between clothing options adds a second or two (and depending on the clothing piece, even three-plus seconds) of what should be unnecessary loading. These loading times are made worse by the inability to preview all of the removable pieces. While you can preview clothes, you can’t preview hair or tattoos. Why previewing wasn’t available across the board is baffling and makes creating wrestlers more tedious than it should be. The same can be stated about the somewhat modified “WWE Universe” mode where a player can create shows, rivalries and loosely held-together storylines. Players have the options of picking the amount of matches on a card now, as well as have specific wrestlers on a number of different shows. There are also “status effects” that come from wrestlers losing or winning like quicker momentum gain or temporary attribute increases. Like the rest of the game, “WWE Universe” mode can get glitchy, but feels lot better than last year’s version (especially after the first update/patch).

Then there are the single player modes. By focusing on a single wrestler instead of a specific era or event, this year’s “2K Showcase” provides an enjoyable trip down memory lane that slowly becomes just as tiresome as the previous iterations while the player simply works through matches just waiting for the next cutscene to be triggered before doing it all over again in the subsequent twenty-plus matches to follow. “2K Showcase” is also hampered by the fact this is the telling of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s career, not a comprehensive look at Steve Austin’s career pre-WWE even though they had most of all the pieces in place to provide such a digital journey as the aforementioned Ricky Steamboat, his former tag team partner turned rival Brian Pillman and former ECW champion Mikey Whipwreck were all included in the game. Instead, these matches and rivalries that happened before Austin’s “Stone Cold” days are put to the side as optional matches that aren’t essential to enjoy the core of “Showcase” mode. The formula that has made this mode and its predecessors what it is has grown incredibly stale and leans on nothing but nostalgia to the point after completing the mode there’s nothing to compel a player to try it again.


"Austin 3:16 says this mode is repetitive!"

“Austin 3:16 says this mode is repetitive!”


Like the roster, creation options and match stipulations, the developers promised to improve everything about last year’s disappointment of a mode, “MyCareer”. The promise associated with this year’s edition was freedom – freedom to choose what side of the fence between fan favorite (babyface) or villain (heel) your character would be on while picking fights, starting rivalries and changing the landscape of WWE by either taking the fight to or aligning with The Authority featuring Triple H and his wife Stephanie McMahon. And the mode lives up to those promises, but in the shallowest form possible. After creating or importing a CAW into the mode (because you can’t export your “MyCareer” character to play throughout the game like last year for some reason), the player is given a crash course about how the game plays and an introduction to how rivalries work.

Rivalries are quite simple. One wrestler is attacked by another, setting off a chain of events that leads to the two (or more) wrestlers competing at a big event like a pay-per-view to conclude the rivalry less than a month after it started. And this goes on and on for the mode’s entirety as the player attempts to rise through the rankings in one of five title divisions. There are times where the player has the chance to be involved in actual “MyCareer” mode-specific storylines (usually involving The Authority), but they come too few and far between. After aligning my character with The Authority, I had a grand total of three unique stories play out in the first twelve or so hours. From then on it was simply about starting (or being forced into) rivalries to move up the title rankings.



Building the WWE Superstar wanted beyond an aesthetic perspective is also hindered in “MyCareer” mode thanks to a how little the amount of currency and experience points the game gives out no matter how great a match the player has (up to the Dave Meltzer-approved five stars). Items such as managers, skills like having the ability to utilize a rope break or store multiple finishers, and attributes to improve the character’s overall stats are so overpriced that it’s hard to enjoy what should be the fruits of your labor. And the personality shifts from babyface to heel through interviews with Renee Young are as generic and laughable as you can get. With no voice over options, every “MyCareer” mode characters sounds the same and takes away the feeling the that the player really has a sense of control over their would-be Superstar’s destiny outside of the ring. There’s a serious lack of immersion that comes of “MyCareer” that was also prevalent in last year’s version. It’s really hard to figure out how Yukes and 2K Games can fix this mode in its current form because as it stands now there’s nothing revolutionary, memorable, or even enjoyable from a long-term perspective.

Online play is back, as well as Community Creations where players can download wrestlers, logos and even move-sets (though this is still a download limit per twenty-four hours). When it comes to the actual gameplay portion of “WWE 2K16” online, the game is pretty much just like previous versions, and, to a certain extent, worse thanks to lagging online play and the inclusion of unblockable moves (this year it’s the “Heart Punch). I gave “WWE 2K16” online a chance and walked away feeling like I wasted my time.



The graphics fluctuate between excellent and, “What in the world is that thing?” It’s obvious the wrestlers who were available for face scanning and who weren’t during the development process; and whether or not the developers felt they had done a good enough job. And then there are the glitches. For some reason, glitches from WWE games dating back almost five years ago are still in the game including weird body morphing and teleportation, character freezing, and the worst of all with save data corruption. There’s no reason for these glitches to still exist.



While it’s a little disappointing that there are still problems with the game’s functionality both online and offline, and the two highly promoted modes lack the polish and/or replay value, at least this year’s iteration feels like a necessary step forward as Yukes and 2K Games get used to what the eighth generation consoles can handle.


Should You Play “WWE 2K16”


As stated above, “WWE 2K16” didn’t need to do much to be better than last year’s offering. They added a lot of match types and creation options that should’ve been in the game last year. The gameplay is a lot more polished thanks to the addition of the reversal meter. And “2K Showcase” is worth playing a least once for nostalgia alone. But for every step forward there’s a disappointing step back due to glitches, optimization issues, online still being a mess, and “MyCareer” failing to live up to the lofty expectations set a game ago. Compared to “WWE 2K15”, “2K16” is a masterpiece. Against previous “Smackdown!”/“Smackdown vs. Raw”/“WWE (Whatever the Next Year is) highpoints, “WWE 2K16” feels simply good enough to warrant a purchase when it’s on sale if you want a wrestling game for your eighth generation console, but it doesn’t need to be bought immediately. At least “WWE 2K16” feels like the series is back on the right path instead of coming across as an utter embarrassment like “WWE 2K15”. Now, if you’ll excuse me; I have a briefcase to cash in.

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